How can I find the if a movie is in the public domain?
April 15, 2007 8:06 PM   Subscribe

How can I find the if a movie is in the public domain?

Is there a website where I can find out which movies are out of copyright (in public domain)?

The only related website i could find is Copyright Records for the US dept but this one is unclear and hard to use.

Does IMDB show this info?

I've searched everywhere and I have still to find a good website with this info.
posted by victorashul to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Here you go.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:16 PM on April 15, 2007


Good general guidelines, but how do i know if a movie is "Published without a copyright notice" and/ or "Published with notice and the copyright was renewed"?
posted by victorashul at 8:26 PM on April 15, 2007


Good general guidelines, but how do i know if a movie is "Published without a copyright notice" and/ or "Published with notice and the copyright was renewed"?

Read the footnotes.

See also Library of Congress Copyright Office, How to investigate the copyright status of a work. Circular 22. [Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, Copyright Office, 2004]. The Online Books Page FAQ, especially "How Can I Tell Whether a Book Can Go Online?" and "How Can I Tell Whether a Copyright Was Renewed?", is also very helpful.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:34 PM on April 15, 2007


I think what victorashul is looking for is a website that actually lists the titles of movies that are now in the public domain. Is that correct, victorashul?
posted by Gerard Sorme at 9:03 PM on April 15, 2007


Exactly gerard.

Papa bell's article leads me to Copyright Records for the US dept, which I knew about, but which is not of much help to me.

A website listing exactly which movies have expired copyright and can be shared freely.
posted by victorashul at 9:10 PM on April 15, 2007


A website listing exactly which movies have expired copyright and can be shared freely.

I doubt you'll find it, or that it would be very comprehensive or accurate, other than to make blanket statements about movies created before 1923.

Think about what you're asking. There have been about 2.3 hojillion movies ever made. They are falling closer and closer into the public domain with each passing minute. But for the time period between 1923 and 1963, there's a significant legal distinction between works that have been renewed and works that haven't. The laws are so complicated and conflicting that you need a flowchart to figure it all out. In many cases, you'll find that even the fundamental question of original or current ownership in unknown.

I look at a list like this one or this one and immediately pick out dozens of movies that couldn't possibly be in the public domain, given their original ownership by huge studios with big legal staffs. Even the Wikipedia entry is very, very questionable.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:29 PM on April 15, 2007


I knew this is a sticky subject and that the are is left grey for the benefit of the studios, but surely people should ask themselves what they can legally download/watch for free without fear or repercussions.

Thanks for you links Papa Bell, It seems i have to make do with what i have.


If anyone else knows more on the subject, please post.
posted by victorashul at 9:40 PM on April 15, 2007


there's some practical info at archive.org
posted by psychobum at 10:07 PM on April 15, 2007



Good general guidelines, but how do i know if a movie is "Published without a copyright notice" and/ or "Published with notice and the copyright was renewed"?


U.S. works published from 1923 to 1963 are the only group of works for which renewal is now a concern. Renewals have expired for works published before 1923, and they are generally in the public domain. The 1976 Copyright Act made renewal automatic for works published after Jan. 1, 1964.

Then you also have the Sonny Bono Act.

The statement that the status of copyright ownership/renewals being left grey "for the benefit of the studios", I agree, is highly dubious - unless you foolishly believe that the movie and music publishing businesses are based on simply stealing money from idiots.
posted by phaedon at 10:48 PM on April 15, 2007


U.S. works published from 1923 to 1963 are the only group of works for which renewal is now a concern. Renewals have expired for works published before 1923, and they are generally in the public domain. The 1976 Copyright Act made renewal automatic for works published after Jan. 1, 1964.

The 1923 to 1963 is the group i'm mostly interested in. So any movie in that period may or may not have copyright. Anything newer and you can forget about it.

So, anyone knows how can i go about checking a movie for copyright, in the 1923-1963 period?
posted by victorashul at 10:57 PM on April 15, 2007


How to Investigate the Copyright Status of a Work.

Let me just add that, if there is a specific title that you have questions about, contact the distributor of the movie. Simple.
posted by phaedon at 11:06 PM on April 15, 2007


Try Super Happy Fun.
posted by mand0 at 5:26 AM on April 16, 2007


That site looks really interesting, but the first question in the FAQ puts me off a bit:

Is SuperHappyFun an illegal pirate operation?

The section of American copyright law known as "The Berne Act" clearly states: films unreleased in the United States, including original version of films altered and/or edited for release in the United States, are not protected by American copyright; thus, they are considered public domain.


Is that really true? I thought the Berne Act was much more draconian and global than that.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 8:20 AM on April 16, 2007


Its is clear that Super Happy fun exploits a misinterpretation of the Berne Act. Seems that they have managed to stay under the radar.
posted by victorashul at 10:29 AM on April 16, 2007


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